Maritime Security:

Coast Guard Efforts to Address Port Recovery and Salvage Response

GAO-12-494R: Published: Apr 6, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 2012.

Additional Materials:


Stephen L. Caldwell
(202) 512-9610


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

Each of the seven Coast Guard AMS Plans that we reviewed has incorporated key recovery and salvage response planning elements as called for by legislation and Coast Guard guidance. Using a template provided by Coast Guard headquarters to help guide AMS Plan development, each AMS Plan included an applicable section addressing procedures to facilitate recovery of the MTS following a TSI. While some variation exists regarding the level of detail provided and the inclusion of additional recovery-related appendices, each of the seven plans identified key recovery components and applicable operational processes as called for by Coast Guard guidance documents. These components include procedures for establishing a Marine Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU) to work with stakeholders and provide guidance to the Incident Command; procedures for gathering and updating Essential Elements of Information (EEIs) to provide status updates on key port assets and operations; and identification of general recovery priorities to help guide decision making. In addition, each AMS Plan also included a Salvage Response Plan to provide a coordination framework for salvage activities and identify available equipment and other resources that may be necessary to support the clearing of waterways to enable resumption of port commerce. Although our plan review was limited to seven high-risk port areas, the Coast Guard provided documentation indicating that all 43 AMS Plans have been approved as meeting all applicable content requirements, including recovery and salvage response elements.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ports, waterways, and vessels are part of an economic engine handling more than $700 billion in merchandise annually, and a major disruption to this system could have a widespread impact on global shipping, international trade, and the global economy. As the lead federal agency for the Marine Transportation System (MTS), the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for facilitating the recovery of the MTS following a significant transportation disruption, such as a security incident or natural disaster, and working with maritime stakeholders for the expeditious resumption of trade. Area Maritime Security (AMS) Plans, which are developed by the Coast Guard with input from applicable governmental and private entities, serve as the primary means to identify and coordinate Coast Guard procedures related to prevention, protection, and security response, as well as facilitation of MTS recovery. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Coast Guard conducted efforts to identify additional recovery-related elements and incorporate them within its AMS Plans to help ensure a consistent approach to MTS recovery and trade resumption. In addition, the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act) required that AMS Plans include a Salvage Response Plan to ensure that waterways are cleared and port commerce is reestablished as efficiently and quickly as possible following a transportation security incident (TSI), among other things. These additional recovery and salvage elements were to be included within the 2009 updates of the AMS Plans. Further, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 called for AMS Plans to establish response and recovery protocols to prepare for, respond to, mitigate against, and recover from a TSI. To facilitate these updates, the Coast Guard revised available planning guidance, which includes a template for use in developing applicable recovery and salvage response content.

Given the importance of ensuring that the Coast Guard has incorporated these recovery-related elements as directed, Congress asked us to determine the extent to which the Coast Guard has revised AMS plans to facilitate recovery of the MTS as called for by legislation and Coast Guard guidance. In addition, as discussed with your offices, we are also continuing to assess the extent to which federal entities are working with maritime stakeholders to enhance the resiliency of port-related infrastructure. We anticipate reporting the results of this work in the summer of 2012.

For more information, contact Stephen L. Caldwell contact me at (202) 512-9610 or

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